Returning home after its West Coast trip, the No. 18 Harvard field hockey team (2-2) faced off against No. 2 Connecticut (5-0) in the team’s home opener on Sunday at Berylson Field. The Huskies proved too tough a challenge to overcome, and the Crimson dropped the contest, 3-1.
Coming off a 2-1 record in its opening weekend, the Harvard squad was hoping to build on that momentum as it faced off against a notoriously tough opponent. As a program, Connecticut has a history of sustained success. After winning the NCAA Division I title in 2013 and 2014, the Huskies have maintained strong success in the playoffs, most recently making the semifinals in 2016.
“I think last week showed us we can compete with the top teams in the country,” Harvard coach Tjerk van Herwaarden said. “Today was just another test to see if last week was a one game wonder or if we have the potential to be a top team. We wanted to use this weekend to see where our true potential lay.”
This season, No. 2 Connecticut came into the matchup undefeated. Furthermore, in its last three games, the Huskies won their matchups by a 15-3 goal differential, and the matchup between Harvard and the Huskies resulted in the 4-0 loss for Harvard last year. As a team with NCAA Playoff aspirations, however, the Crimson would need to compete with exactly this kind of competition to succeed.
“We compared this game to last year’s when we played UConn,” van Herwaarden said, “In that matchup, we allowed them to dictate the game. From the first moment today, we wanted to get out there and show them what we were capable of.”
Harvard’s attacking mindset paid almost immediate dividends, as the team controlled the flow play early on. This strategy culminated in an early goal for the Crimson, as junior forward Kathleen Young slotted home the game’s first goal at the four minute mark. Following a scramble near the net, Young managed to control a loose ball and fire off a low shot past the Connecticut goalkeeper.
Following the goal, Harvard managed to control the momentum of the game for a brief period. Small mistakes, however, proved to be the team’s undoing. The Crimson gave away eight penalty corners in the first half, and Connecticut took advantage by scoring three of them in just over ten minutes. Van Heerwarden noted the importance of making mistakes against strong opponents.
“Against these types of teams, the top teams in the country, small mistakes do make a difference,” van Herwaarden said. “These games show us where our room to grow is. We need to be able to guide ourselves towards those finer details against opponents. That’s the next step for us to take.”
The Huskies first goal came in the 20th minute, as Connecticut junior forward Amanda Collins managed to score off of a deflection. Two minutes later off of a penalty corner, the Huskies’ sophomore midfielder Barbara van den Hoogen deflected a shot into the net. Finally, in the 34th minute, Connecticut senior forward Charlotte Veitner tapped in Connecticut’s third goal of the half.
In the second half, both teams played an even game, with neither side able to score. Despite the result, the team was pleased with its efforts and managed to learn from the contest.
“We played a very respected opponent and held our own the entire game,” senior midfielder Hannah Wellington said. “There were mistakes we made that cost us the game. However, they are little mistakes that can be fixed and learned from so that we can succeed in our remaining games.”
Following today’s game, Harvard will face Northeastern and New Hampshire next weekend before kicking off Ivy league play on September 23 againt Yale. In next weekend’s matchups, the team looks to use this matchup against Connecticut to better itself before conference play begins.
“Eventually, all of these games should prepare us in the best way possible for Ivy league play,” van Heerwarden said. “I think we’ve done really well these past few games. New Hampshire and Northeastern are both tough opponents. But we need to prepare and we need to get a result. I think next weekend should be a good final test before we go into Ivy League play.”
—Staff writer Sean Chanicka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org